It’s banned, but it’s still being sold in local stores.
And all evidence points to the fact that synthetic marijuana is far more dangerous than many first thought.
“It's scary. It will destroy your brain,” said a local homeless woman we saw loitering in a park in downtown St. Petersburg.
She didn’t want to give her name, but told us she recently witnessed a man high on synthetic marijuana beat a brick wall with a baseball bat until his hands were splintered and bleeding.
The man told her he was fighting Satan.
“It brought the Satan out in me,” said former user William Jump, who said he often got in fights when he was high on the drug.
He was recently arrested for possession of the drug and vows never to use it again.
“It was cheap and it was fun at first. Everybody was doing it,” said Frank Paris, who is now a client of Turning Point of Tampa’s drug treatment program.
It's been more than half a decade since synthetic drugs, commonly called by names like "K2", “Spice” and "Scooby Snax" first arrived in Florida.
They were banned under a state law passed three years ago, but that appears to have not stopped the supply or demand in the Bay area.
“It's marketed to be attractive. It's marketed to look like it's not dangerous,” said Turning Point drug counselor Daniel van Bromel.
Smoke shops, convenience store and websites sell the stuff, claiming that they are just for aromatherapy or other uses that don’t involve human consumption.
“The get it from other kids. They learned from other kids. It's easier to get than alcohol,” said van Bromel.
“It kind of just took over, became really addictive,” said Paris.
He landed in rehab after synthetic marijuana nearly killed him.
“You become blank. That was a lasting effect,” he said.
Paris said it didn't take him long before he had to do it every day.
“As soon as I woke up, and it if I didn't do it within 30 minutes to an hour, I'd be puking my guts up. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and throw up. Had my withdrawal symptoms and get the shakes,” Paris said.
“Because of the chemicals involved in this stuff, because it's so dangerous, they're suffering extreme consequences early,” said van Bromel.
He as worked as a drug counselor for decades.
Van Bromel says users of synthetic marijuana can become hooked almost instantly.
“With the alcohol, with a lot of people it would take 10, 20, 30 years,” he said.
Paris ended up in the hospital, coughing up blood and having seizures when he tried to quit.
“All these chemicals are building up in your system, they're manufacturing it with a different chemical every batch they make. They said it had built up in my system so much, I couldn't live without it,” he said.
The active ingredients in the drugs are constantly changed to try to avoid bans by the DEA.
No matter the ingredients, it is dangerous.
Florida's Poison Control Center has received 20,000 calls involving synthetic marijuana since 2010.
“I was talking to someone earlier who was smoking up to $800 a week of this stuff,” said van Bromel.
He says one of his young patients suffered a stroke, another received a pacemaker and a third got put on the waiting list for a heart transplant after using synthetic marijuana.
Frank Paris watched a friend he used with die.
“I guess they didn't catch it in time. He had stomach problems, ulcers and bled to death. Started coughing up blood and didn't stop,” Paris said.
His friend was 18 when he died.
Van Bromel says you need to pay close attention to the warning signs to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to someone you love.
“Your gut instinct will not lie to you. Parents have to have their eyes open. They have to pay attention to extreme changes in attitude and behavior,” he said.
“It's always gonna be available and it's always gonna be easy to get. Easier to get than any drug you get off the streets,” said Paris.
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